Wed
Mar 27 2013 9:00am

Transdimensional TMNT is Turtles Turned to 11 with Dinosaurs

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPGTransdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may very well be the greatest role-playing game sourcebook of all time. I’m not even being slightly hyperbolic. It is a book that talks about everything from dinosaurs to time travel, from wizards to parallel dimensions. I suppose I should start a little further back: do you know that Palladium published the TMNT game, called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness? Well they did, and while the game is built on the rickety foundation of the Palladium system, the “Bio-E” mini-system for mutating your character from everyday animal into an anthropomorphic version is incredibly elegant. Transdimensional TMNT takes the “Strangeness” part of “...and Other Strangeness” and cranks it up to eleven. The real kicker, though, is that it has perhaps the most cogent system for time travel that I’ve ever seen, period.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

One of the things that makes TMNT and Other Strangeness (and many Palladium games) wonderful and frustrating are all the random tables. Everything from your background to your animal species is rolled up on a table. Sure you could just pick, but where is the fun in that? If you did that you’d never find out that chickens can see ultraviolet, and create a mutant rooster gambler who marks his cards with UV paint. Transdimensional TMNT’s random character backgrounds are...phenomenally surreal and wonderful.

This includes rather tame stuff like accidental hitchhikers and animal samples from the Jurassic or Cenozoic, mutated by the raw forces of time travel, sure. It also includes...being a magically altered witch’s familiar! Or a “brain-edited” traveller from the far future, sent to make historical observations on the past. Yes! You could be a Howard the Duck-style visitor from another dimension where everybody is a duck-person like you, rather than an ape-person like our Earth has; heck, you can be from an Earth where Neanderthals survived and Sapiens didn’t; you know how much I like that.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

Then, in one of the greatest examples of giving the customer what they want: the rules for making mutant dinosaurs! Heck yes I want to pay 10 Bio-E for my mutant stegosaurus to have “Temperature Control Plates.” Not content to stop there, we get a bunch of other prehistoric critters to mutate, too. Wooly mammoths, sabertooth tigers, glyptodons, terror birds, brown paper packages tied up with string...these are a few of my favorite things. Ready to rest on their laurels? Not a chance! Rules for mutant humans— that is, devolving into grey alien-like humanoids— and for other mutant hominins are icing on the cake, complete with a host of psychic powers to pick from.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

 

All gonzo excellence aside, It is Transdimensional TMNT’s time travel mechanics that really force you to take a second look at it, though, with your serious pants on. Now, a disclaimer here: I don’t know how much of the time travel concepts come from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird or Erick Wujcik, but what I do know is that there are really quite cunning. The analogy used is that of a coiled up garden hose. Imagine that the flow of water through the hose is time, moving at 1 second per second. Fighting against the flow isn’t really effective, but if you were to sneak out of a loop of the hose and into the one below, you’d end up in a different “Twist” of time. (Twists themselves coil up into Cycles; I’m simplifying here) Now, like a hose, the coils on the bottom are bigger, and the coils up top are smaller, meaning closer to current history you can jump from century to century—giving your players a chance to hit the historical highlights—and farther in the past they are big enough to go with broadstrokes for things like the Cretaceous or Permian or, heck the moments after the Big Bang.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

Meanwhile, the flow of time through the proverbial hose keeps moving forward! If you leave 2013 CE at 6:00 PM, go back to 162 BCE and spend three hours there, you’ll come back to 2013 at 9:00 PM. The constant motion of time resolves all those nasty paradoxes and issues of cause and effect. You can have the timeline hopping shenanigans without having to worry why Cloud didn’t give Aeris the Phoenix Down about trying to go back in time to stop the villain before his evil plan even started. The Grandfather Paradox problem still exists, and they have rules for Temporal “Kickback” for when the bad guy gives the Confederacy a crate of AK-47s and changes the future, but if you are more of a Predestination Paradox type like myself, or adhere to the “self-correcting time stream” space opera concept, you can go with that, too.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

The story that Transdimensional TMNT chooses to tell by describing the future Twists that you find as you go forward instead of backwards is, I think, really compelling, and weaves various disparate elements of continuity together. There was a very popular spin-off line from TMNT and Other Strangeness called After the Bomb, which posits quite simply that after WWIII, the fallout of the nukes, bioweapons, chemical weapons, et al mutate all of the surviving animals (and mutate insects to fill their old ecological niches). As far as elevator pitches go, that is a pretty strong one; After the Bomb includes Mutants Down Under, the Australian expansion, Road Hogs, for all your Mad Max-y needs, Mutants in Avalon, if you want to ride a giant snail and meet a mutant raven King Arthur, Mutants in the Yucatan if flamingos and vampire bats are your style...just a host of great pulp ideas. So it is no surprise that it is the first Twist ahead in the future.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

The clever interweaving doesn’t stop there. Did you know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles go to space not infrequently? At least, starting with their Mirage run they did, and Turtles Guide to the Universe covers the cosmic playground for the RPG. One of the most dangerous places to end up is on a Wild Planet, where mutagens have gone crazy, making the whole planet a hyper-evolved deathtrap. Guess what? After the Bomb was the start of that trend, and the next stop on the time-train is, you guessed it, Earth as a Wild Planet. A nice little bow-tie on the TMNT universe, I think. Here, at the Wild Planet of Twist 2, you’ll also meet one of my favorite NPCs of all time: the young mutant fox piloting the space shuttle that rescues the PCs, Gary Morbriar.

See, the great thing about Gary Morbriar comes up in the Twist 3, the Terminator-style machine world apocalypse that grows from the death-droids designed to tame the Wild Planet. Here, young hotshot Gary Morbriar has matured into a senior officer with a creepy robot snake “advisor” around his neck and just a smidge more mutation. The non-linear notes are what make the scene, though: “He will be happy to see the characters again (incidentally, he’ll recognize them and call them by name, even if, the way the game has been going, they haven’t met him before.)” That’s right, Gary Morbriar is Transdimensional TMNT’s River Song, circa 1990.

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

The next Twist is even more grimdark: War! A war so wild that a chain of hydrogen bombs ripping across the face of Eurasia is described as harmless sensor cover for the Ultan I-Beams. Whatever that means. Gary Morbriar is here again, covered in cybernetic implants, mutated even further. After the War, though...there is a peace of sorts. An Earth covered by wilderness reclaiming the ruins of...well, everything. Where the only people left are...humans. Strange, “Garden of Eden” style humans, hyper-intelligent and hyper-primitive.

Gary Morbriar appears here as a hologram, shifting between his previous incarnations. Beyond that is a “Dark Eden” Twist, where the humans start evolving to fill the niches occupied by animals—giant herd humans on the plains, small arboreal humans in the trees, amphibious humans...and the Night Hunters, human predators. Past that, though is the Third Millennial Barrier. Time travel, whether spells or machines, just doesn’t work past that point, and if you keep trying? Well, an apparently omnipotent power will give you an indirect message to knock it off—say by disassembling your time machine and burying the pieces in the wall to spell out “BUZZ OFF!”

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dinosaurs Time Travel RPG

I’m really only scratching the surface of the book, here. It has rules for building a time machine and vehicle, so you can build your own Delorean. Rules for making wizards (!) and magical Time Lords. Hey, if you want to read “Time Lord” and think of Gallifrey, I won’t stop you. Also included are rules for historical weapons and gear, sample adventures and even an excerpt of the Donatello mini-series where he meets a fictionalized version of Jack Kirby...complete with “Kirby King’s” statistics. He is a 9th level comic artist, in case you were wondering. So yes, Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is exactly what it looks like: a game where you can play as a mutant dinosaur wizard fighting post-apocalyptic robots. Seriously, it is probably the greatest sourcebook of all time.

(Art by James Lawson.)


Mordicai Knode had a mutant porcupine assassin named Spike Q. Seta when he was 12 years old who ended up retiring to an alternate universe where Genghis Khan’s empire never fell and because a utopia. You can follow him on Twitter or Tumblr.

15 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
I really just kicks 1,000 kinds of butt. No scratch that, 65,000,000 kinds.
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
This is one Palladium book I never checked out. I loved the Rifts books (even if the rules were, to be blunt, broken, especially once the 'World Books' got into the double-digits), but the ongoing storyline being told thru the rulebooks was why I kept buying them, even tho I didn't have a gaming group to play with. Does TMNT have the same type of background-awesomeness?
Steve Hussey
4. deihbhussey
Love Palladium. Been playing it since I was 17 (now 34). My weekly game is tonight. Many people call the rules broken and there are issues, however, I don't have them as I know all the rules. The problem with people calling the rules broken is they aren't experienced enough with Palladium to know when you need to establish a "bent" rule. I've been playing with the same people for so long that over time we compensated where we've needed too. Obviously that makes it difficult for any novice to come in but we slowly incorporate new people as necessary and that helps.

To me it's both a plus and a minus that Palladium has never had a full redesign (a la D&D 2.0 et al). I think it's great that all of the data is available throughout all of the books in any game depending upon the GM's rules, however, that does mean that things aren't as streamlined. It's almost impossible for a new person to create a better character then an experienced Palladium gamer. I generally use 5 or 6 books to create one character just because I know where to look for all the rules and how they function in conjunction.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
2. JackofMidworld

There is some metaplot-- like, if you look closely, you can tell that the "evil Carebears" called the Terror Bears caused WWIII when the PCs failed a published adventure-- but no, it isn't really an ongoing plot. More it is a plethora of plot ideas that you could spin out into entire campaigns.

3. stevenhalter

Just talking about it my fingers curl into a \m/ so yeah. YEAH!

4. deihbhussey

I have friends who are big Palladium fans, but last time I tried to run a game-- the White Ronin adventure with all the death traps-- it was a lot of fun until combat happened, at which point is slowed to a grind. Now, some of that can be chalked up to my not knowing how best to run the system, but I think in general the "D20 on steroids" effect was a factor. Personally, I like minimalist systems, & so combat is where Palladium & I part ways.

Though I treasure my TMNT & Robotech books. Worth their weight in gold!
Steve Hussey
6. deihbhussey
@5 mordicai

You're not wrong on the combat, but once again that comes to experience along with the ability to quickly do math or use a calculator. It's all 2nd nature to me given the amount of time I've done it though the learning curve is huge for new people for the reasons you've likely experienced.

To be honest, any time we've started a new game the combat took longer in the beginning while everyone got used to the capabilities of their characters and what was possible. It always speeds up after a 2 or 3 games.

You also make a valid point regarding the D20 on steriods, it's not for everyone but I personally like the amount of options you have to avoid getting hit, I enjoy the complicated nature of it. In many games there are no options to avoid being hit if a PC or NPC roles high enough. In palladium, you can parry, dodge, simultaneous attack & parry (if you have paired weapons), Combo parry/attack, Anticipation, roll with punches, etc. There are always options, near the end of my last game, I actually parried a huge magic ice wall summoned above me by using a TW-knife with the spell Anti-Magic cloud embeded in it (since the TW knife causes the spell to go off when it touches something, the simple act of touching the wall with the knife during a parry caused the spell to be cast, thus negating the magic wall's existance).

The variables are varied and that can slow down combat so if that isn't for you, I can completely understand.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. deihbhussey

I will agree with you that the existence of dodge mechanics are a neat touch, though all of the various rolls, dodges & parry-s seem redundant. Anyhow, like you say, maybe it just isn't for me! I'm certainly on the team that says "play with the mechanics you like." I never really "got" the Edition Wars & such conflict. Just play what is fun! I personally use a homebrew based on World of Darkness.
Rob Vitaro
8. rvitaro
It was so awesome to see the Transdimensional TMNT cover in my feed today!

I got my copy WAY back, early 90s probably. Haven't played RPGs in over 15 years, but I always thought this was the most amazing add-on to the TMNT series of RPGs. With this book and TMNT and other Strangeness, you could do absolutely anything. Just two thin books, some dice, and then let your imagination run wild.

The time travel mechanics are some of the most original ideas that I still haven't seen anywhere else: books, movies games, or otherwise.

As to people's comments on the Palladium system, it was the only system I ever played, so I had nothing to compare it to. Heroes/Villians Unlimited and Ninjas & Superspies were great on their own, but I always loved folding them into TMNT.

Just really great stuff. Thanks, Mordicai, for the trip down memory lane.
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
8. rvitaro

When I heard Tor.com was going to do Dinosaur Week I was like "I AM GOING TO WRITE ABOUT TRANSDIMENSIONAL TMNT & IT IS GOING TO MELT YOUR FACES OFFFFFfffffff!!!!1111oneone"
David Thomson
10. ZetaStriker
I love the idea of the setting, time travel, and random character creation rules. The only thing really holding me back would be Palladium's percentile skill system, which isn't something I've ever been particularly fond of. Should be easy enough to homebrew into a D20, D10 or D6 system of my choice though, if I really wanted to.
Steve Hussey
11. deihbhussey
9. mordicai
I too want to thank you for this article, it was very well thought out and I love your enthuasiam for the various parts of the game you did enjoy. There's not enough written about Palladium in my - understandably unimportant - opinion. To be honest, when i responded to you earlier, I didn't realize you were the one that wrote it. Guess I should pay closer attention in the future. Anyway, regarding your last message, I haven't played any White Wolf since I played live action about 20 years ago. My last D&D group switched to it after a 4.0 game, but I wasn't excited enough about the system to stay with them given the the travel distance with which I had to deal. Either way, I'm glad to connect with another gamer even if we don't agree as to which systematic rules are the most fun. ;-)

PS: there are various nuances that separate many of the defenses that weren't always evident in the earlier book issues. I.E: Parrying didn't usually cost any of your later attacks as long as you had a hand to hand whereas Dodge always costs an attack unless you had an automatic Dodge which was a separate bonus from the normal Dodge bonus (generally always a lower bonus than Dodge was). Some of that was cleared up in later FAQ's and some wasn't cleared up until the Rifts Ultimate edition was released much later.

10. ZetaStriker
Regarding your percentage issue. You can just use d10's to avoid that. Either use two d10's to account for the full 100% or just round the percentile after dividing by 10 and use 1d10 to determine if it was successful. Alternatively, if you are using two skills that oppose each either (e.g.: Prowl vs Detect Concealment) you can divide each PC's percentile by 5 and use the resulting number as a bonus to a d20 or d10 roll by each PC to see who is successful.
Mordicai Knode
12. mordicai
10. ZetaStriker

See, I don't mind the percentile system! It is the combat system where I get hung up...but like you said, both can be remedied by a little homebrew. In fact I was just talking about how to plug the Bio-E into any system at all tonight!
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
11. deihbhussey

You are welcome! Yeah, I played a lot of Palladium in my younger days-- TMNT, Robotech & Rights-- so I'm not a hater, I just have other preferences! I had a friend who DM'd a campaign that was in part built on older Palladium Fantasy games he'd run, so it comes up now & again.
Zenvis
14. Zenvis
I love your critique. I hope that you critique all the Palladium greats.
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
14. Zenvis

Thanks! You know, I have a bunch of Robotech books sitting here, waiting for "giant robot week" or some such excuse to write them up...

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